Inside the lab, conservators talk about the care of antique maps like a doctor discusses a patient’s condition and treatment in an intensive care unit.
Conservators will lay a given map on a table for an exam and diagnose the issue: Is it brittle or burned? Damaged by water or tape? Crumbly, delaminated or peeling? Then they record the treatment in a chart of sorts so that years later, the next caretaker will know what remedy was given.
The repair process of a map—like that for a more than 200-year-old, torn illustration of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—typically takes several hours, though sometimes the conservators will spend days working on just one.